Sunday, March 14, 2010

Choosing Our Future

The difficulty with coming to grips with history is that it takes as little as a few hours to read a biography but it takes a life time to live it. I am constantly reminded that the great events of history (usually wars and conflicts owing to our penchant of listening to male historians I fear) come down to us as both faits accomplis and events that occurred instantly, or at least within the length of time it takes to read about them. The US's ever increasing involvement in Viet Nam was not ordained to follow the path it did, just as our involvement in Afghanistan did not have to follow the curve it has, at least so far. Yet when we look back at the early 60s we see one event inexorably leading to the next. The claim that a US ship was attacked was debunked almost immediately yet the politicians, bound and determined to get involved ignored their military and took the country down the path of greater interference to "save" the corrupt and impossible state of South Viet Nam. Similarly the US built an elaborate house of cards claiming there were "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, and in so doing they overrode the reports which were prepared by the politicians own spies and analysts. The die was cast.

It took a long time for the famous dictators of 20th century Europe to rise to power but they set their paths in stone for us to look back on them and marvel. Benito Mussolini started out a socialist and gave that up as a bad job when he realized it wasn't going to get him power. Adolf Hitler's story was the similar in that he followed a path that took him to jail and despair. We don't think of the great mass murderer of his epoch as a miserable failed artist ready to commit suicide when rejected by the woman he's just not part of the myth. Francisco Franco took over Spain in much more linear fashion rising like a regular guy through the ranks, and snatching the prize when he saw his chance. Perhaps evidence of his stability was shown when he declined to join the general bloodletting and carried on past World War II to live a long and peaceful life as a very successful dictator. He looks quite self satisfied here:So then I ask myself what could possibly be the path to be followed by a dictator in the US? Ascent through the ranks of peaceful, democratically elected (more or less) members of Congress? In the military? Such a scenario seems more likely to me than fragmentation of the republic. I wonder who would have the nuts to put a border post between Texas and Arkansas? "Show your passport please?" is an odd question to put to your neighbor in a pick up truck who lives across the road in Texarkana.

Where there is no separation of culture or language, that is to say, history, it gets much more complex to draw a dividing line. Indeed the world of commerce and trade has been working to knock down these barriers and so far protectionism hasn't even been put on the table as a possible solution to our unemployment troubles. We are trapped in the narrative that continues to insist that free market capitalism will save us. Even though trade barriers are down in Europe you can still tell a Pole from a German simply by asking the question: What is your name? You can't do that in the US. All we are separated by is our political opinions. The Civil War was geographic and cultural and economic and even abolitionists in the south (there were a few) could mask their distaste for slavery enough to support a war which smacked of imperialism because it was also geographic.

How to separate a red state from a blue state these days? Who isn't fed up with the political leadership? We all feel betrayed to one degree or another, you because Obama is a socialist, me because he isn't. We both know our votes count less than corporate sponsorship of the political class, we neither of us know what to do about it.

Perhaps the answer some will find will be terrorism, old fashioned 20th century Red Brigades, RAF, IRA style guerrilla warfare against the State. But we live in a comfortable world and it will take a lot to persuade a man on a couch to take up arms. The terrorists of 20th century Europe were idealistic youngsters, educated, disaffected and hopeless. Timothy McVeigh got his education in the military and lost his sense of himself as a civilian leading him to blow up a federal building and kill hundreds. He hoped his act would foment revolution but he went to the gallows disappointed. Joe Stack mixed up his own lack of business acumen with aggravation at the system and his flight into another Federal building was not the spark that started a revolt. The Tea Party will, I predict, run out of steam by election time. They carry along too much weird baggage to sweep up the fence sitting protesters. Sarah Palin will exhaust her welcome and the rest of us will face a shrinking economy, collapsing business real estate and an ever harder struggle to stay optimistic.

If ill advised "patriots" do start bombing offices and planes I'm guessing most people would be only to delighted to have some martial law enacted. I recall a few years ago more than 50% of those polled thought the First Amendment "went too far"! Such are the patriots of the modern land of the free, where taking the easy path is always the first choice. Americans these days seem ready for a strong leader who will tell them what to do, so dictatorship might be just the ticket. I'm not ready for a Generalissimo but perhaps there is a General out there in the ranks ready to be non partisan, ready to save the Republic for the good of the Republic. It happened in Rome at the end of the Roman Empire, I guess it could happen here. It didn't end well for Rome and I doubt it would here either.


Danette said...

I think you're right on about this but it's not only because Americans are too busy reclining on their couches (they are but old men and women have never been the leaders of revolution)-- it is also the result of a failed education system. In the 1970s our education system was actually educating kids. They were actually capable of critical thinking! So the protests about Viet Nam were not simply a generation of kids who were cowardly, afraid of war and whose friends were dying in Viet Nam, but a generation who recognized that we were all being duped about what the war really was. They rose up to fight back because they did not want to be unwitting pawns to the corporate state.

Since that time, the education system has been systematically unraveled and now only produces Number Crunchers. It's all about producing productive workers. Teachers avoid topics that might result in critical thinking and indeed often don't know how to teach that anymore. Two years ago, I went to a seminar on education that was pulled together by the school I worked in (I was the librarian in the building). The gentleman doing the seminar pointed out something (although the phrasing is mine) that should be a no-brainer to educators: Science is the blade sharpener of education and ultimately all social/economic development has sprung directly from scientific knowledge. For the last 40 years, since the political upheaval in the 60s, the education system has been under assault. We don't want children capable of critical thinking, able to identify what is really wrong with our political system. We want them to be drones in the system.

The Tea Partiers will really just agitate enough to allow our politicians to call in the military to scare the rest of us out of civil unrest. And I think you're right, a dictator is the next logical step.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conchscooter and Danette:

I would like very much to answer this post, before it gets lost in the shadow of another... Yet I fear nothing short of 2,000 words will do and I am not prepared for that investment of time nor effort at the moment.

I disagree with Danette... My father learned to kill Nazis before he learned to drive. He could take apart a 50mm machine gun before he learned to install a faucet in the bathroom. Is rthis the old men she is talking about?

I would avise anyone who wanted to speak authortatively of revolutuin to read a book called, "Paul Revere's Ride." While focusing on the deatails of one night, it explains a seriesxof socioal mechanism that absolutely defeated the British... But moreso, gave a 1/3 minority of the country the ability to lead the other two into a radical concept.

The necessity of needing a passport to travel among the lower fifty states nearly became a reality two years ago, when the Deprtment of Homeland Security decalared 17 states had not accepted federal policy regarding a new design for a driver's license, and that these documents would no longer be accepted as "official" ID at the nation's airports.

The Democratic Governor of Montana told the DHS and George Bush to go to hell. He was told that the security of the nation was at stake. He then demanded that all of Montana seven tiny regional airports be afforded the same attention and resources that airports like JFK, Los Angeles, and O'Hare got. This would have forced the DHS into spending tens of millions of dollars on airport security in Montana. They declined... Saying Montana residents would have to use a US passport to travel domestically.

This was the official position of the DHS right up until California told them to go to hell too. That would have meant that millions of passengers flying out of Los Angeles and San Francisco to other states would need passports too. The DHS folded on that one, but is now doing an end run to have every state send them the personal informatio of every driver on record. This is in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974.

I would be very surprised if either of you (Danette or Michael) knew anyrthing about this, or even knew where your state stood on the issue of supplying this data to the DHS. It is important to all because driver's license activity is a state's right. Yet mission creep by the federal government woul usurp this, and a hundred others.

My point is that revolution requires the average citizen to be familiar with these things, to read newspapers, to know about the legislative process, and to lean on their elected patsies to come clean on these issues.

I voted for Barack Oshithead because he said he was going to clean all of this up. Instead, he's made it worse. The best revolutions never take a life nor do they threaten to do so. They are called evolutions.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Danette said...

"Revolution requires the average citizen to be familiar with these things, to read newspapers, to know about the legislative process, and to lean on their elected patsies to come clean on these issues."

So, in short you are saying that revolution requires a population to be educated-- and age may not be the issue. Okay. I don't disagree that older folk may also be a part of a revolution but it is generally the passion of the young that drives it. But education has been under assault for long enough that even the "middle aged" -my age- :P lack the ability to discern reality from manipulation.

I didn't know about the incident you cited but our government is complicit with the corporate state. Our government needs an overhaul but the passive nature of our population (i.e. couch potatoes who are uneducated and drugged by pop culture) is not very likely to bring it about- and if we don't fight for our right to be protected from the corporations and their shill, the federal government, then who will? Thus leading the way for...

Singing to Jeffrey's Tune said...

Wouldn't the 1960's system be that educated the protesters?

As for the evolution, I think the children of the couch potatoes will bring about the (R)evolution, through necessity. They will be the first generation to have less and live less than the generation before them.

And not to be curt, many of my generation blame the baby boomers (it is easy to point fingers - I try to pull up my own boot straps). However, a quote from a friend that hit it home somewhat, "Why dislike the Baby Boomers? Four decades of lying around suckling off the fat from past and future generations, while having the nads to sanctimoniously condemn materialism and greed"

Yes, I am starting shit.

Danette said...

I guess I need to clarify what I said (I think): The boomers would have been in educated in the sixties (I am only marginally considered a boomer- born at the tail end of the boomer years but really more a part of the Gen X crowd.) and at that time, the education system was still largely intact- students were given a classic liberal education. After the student protests and riots of the sixties there was a fundamental shift in the schools although it was incremental. At this point students are hammered over and over with math and reading fundamentals. While I agree that our children need to read-- (who can argue with that?) the solution is not to eliminate the classic education. Read 'The Age of American Unreason' if you really want to see the 50s and 60s from a different perspective than you usually get in the mainstream media (even PBS).

And you're not starting shit as far as I am concerned-- I agree that your generation is going to have to be the ones to step up. The boomers did their bit (and yes they did a great deal!) and they are mostly tired and want to retire in warmer climates. :) Now who's starting shit?